If I Ran the Zoo

Common Sense Media says

A better and brighter zoo than the ones we know.





What parents need to know

Positive messages

Dated racial and great-white-hunter stereotypes.

Violence & scariness
Not applicable
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the cut-up verse skips like a step-dancing troupe, the creatures are crazily imaginative concoctions, and the narrator is amusing -- and enviable.

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Kids say

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What's the story?

Seuss's zoo is better and brighter than the ones we know, with its Joats and Lunks and Mulligatawnies from locales like the Desert of Zind and the Wilds of Nantucket. Young Gerald McGrew imagines the creatures he would put on display, the distant lands where he would track them, and the inventive means he would use to trap them.

Is it any good?


IF I RAN THE ZOO is a standard -- and by that meaning the standard -- Dr. Seuss joyride of verse and ridiculous creatures. Here is life lived as a fantastical experience, lit by an imagination that shimmers and bursts like fireworks. Though the animals are pure figments, Seuss transports readers into the adventure with Gerald McGrew as he globetrots in search of the best wild animals.

So evocative are the places that an 8-year-old rereading the book after an absence of three years announced "Russia!" when a snow-swept, spruce-darkened village of cupolas came into view. But Seuss stumbles as he dishes up some shockingly quaint verbal and visual racial commentary: "I'll hunt in the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant / With helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant," or the Indian chieftains whom Gerald will display along with the "scraggle-footed Mulligatawny," or the African porters. Now is as good a time as any to have a discussion about this racial typing.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what animals they would want to have in a zoo. They also can talk about the now-dated racial stereotyping in the book. How have attitudes changed over time? How does the media reflect changing values?

Book details

Author:Dr. Seuss
Illustrator:Dr. Seuss
Genre:For Beginning Readers
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Random House
Publication date:October 12, 1950
Number of pages:60

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Adult Written byjimbo57 April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age

Lesson for Life

Great story for the imagination of kids, but there's also a meaning that has stayed with me my whole life. Even though the main person in the story says he would do all these wonderful things, in the end we realize they don't really exist. Many could not even function in real life. Before I got into management, I often wondered at the great things I would do "If I ran the Zoo". It took becoming one to realize that many of those things also don't exist in real life!
Parent of a 5 and 7 year old Written byJamie and James March 15, 2010

I loved it- now my kids do, too!

I have always loved Dr. Sueuss-all his books have a lesson-but my kids don't understand them yet. All I can say is that I love all the true child fantasy, wacky creatures, RYMES, and amazing illustrations. Great to hear, and great to see. It is good for your child to hear it right before bedtime,to get their mind thinking on the great lesson, and to get them thinking happy thoughts to sleep on. Try it!
Parent of a 3 year old Written byChert July 29, 2009

Keep in mind it's from the 1950s...

The Minnow picked this out in the library the other day. The crazy creatures are fun, especially the elephant-cat. I had to stop after a bit and ask her how she feels about "capturing" animals. I told her zoos don't do that anymore. I was also disturbed by the racist images of Asians and Africans (not named as such but obvious). Luckily, I don't think the Minnow understands what they are supposed to represent...the people just look as strange as the creatures. I noticed they've updated other books to remove the stereotypes (like The Nose Book) and it would be nice if they could do the same here: maybe it could be about saving endangered creatures or seeing them in nature.


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